Venice Little Theatre’s By the Bog of Cats is an often brooding experience.
By Kay Kipling
Marina Carr’s play By the Bog of Cats, now showing at Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II, is filled with atmosphere, most notably that of the primeval bogs of Ireland, where it’s set, with more than a dose of ancient Greek tragedy (think Medea) thrown in for measure. There’s an aura of some dark magic power underlying the action as well, as a wronged woman seeks revenge in her own troubled way.
The woman is Hester Swane (Sara Trembly), who has gypsy or “Traveller” blood, coming from a tradition of staying on the move in caravans. Hester has stayed in one place for a long time, though—the bog of cats—both because it’s where she’s had a longtime relationship with younger lover Carthage (Michael DeSantis), with whom she has a child (Alexa Ditaranto), and because the abandoned child within the grown Hester still longs for the return of her own mother, who left the bog decades ago and never came back.
The melodrama of the play is precipitated by the impending marriage of Carthage to the daughter (played by Chelsey Panisch) of a landowner (Tom Bahring). And it escalates when Hester’s increasingly erratic behavior leads Carthage to threaten that he’ll take away her daughter. You may be able to guess the outcome.
The VLT production is strongly cast, with Trembly doing often bravura work in the challenging role of Hester. Her scenes with DeSantis are highly charged, as is a climactic one between her and the landowner. There’s also capable work by Mary Jo Johnson as a blind and mystical Catwoman and by Panisch, who’s sympathetic as a young woman unwillingly in the middle of it all, with comic relief provided by Nina Hughes as Carthage’s self-absorbed and outspoken mother.
Much of that comic relief comes in the second act, at the wedding reception for Carthage and his bride. But the swift change in mood here and then back again to the darker side for the third act makes By the Bog of Cats feel like there’s two different plays going on here. Somehow the comedy and the drama don’t balance each other here; they jar. And Carr tends to drag on some of her scenes too long.
But VLT’s actors (and director Kelly Wynn Woodland) acquit themselves well. By the Bog of Cats continues through April 27; for tickets call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.